Five surprising keto-friendly ingredients you've probably never heard of

What now? Nutritional yeast has a salty and slightly cheesy taste.
What now? Nutritional yeast has a salty and slightly cheesy taste. Photo: iStock

The keto diet seems here to stay. The trend promotes foods low in carbohydrates and high in fats, and limits carb intake to less than 50 grams per day to encourage weight loss.

While it may seem a tad restrictive (who wants to voluntarily cut out carbs?), here are five surprising keto-friendly ingredients that will help you mix up your cooking.

Most are available for sale in health food shops, in the health aisle of your local supermarket or from online shops. 

Coconut aminos

Coconut aminos are the latest fad in the health industry - thanks to their low energy count and keto-friendly nutrients. 

Coconut aminos are a liquid - a salty, savoury sauce made from the fermented sap of coconut palm. The sweet flavouring is a great alternative to soy sauce for anyone with a gluten intolerance, wheat or soy allergy, or those trying to reduce their sodium intake.

However, while some media coverage claims coconut aminos boast a variety of health benefits including weight loss and reduced risk of heart disease, accredited practising dietitian Bronwen Greenfield says many of these claims have not been scientifically proven.

Eating enough fibre can be difficult on the keto diet.
Eating enough fibre can be difficult on the keto diet. Photo: iStock

One supposed health benefit of coconut aminos is the amino acids it contains, Greenfield says. These help form protein in the human body. 

"While yes, it does contain the amino acid glutamate, the amount is negligible given a serving of coconut aminos - five teaspoons - contains zero grams of protein," she says.

However, the low-carb content does make them a great keto-friendly ingredient to boost the flavour of dishes, especially with new varieties such as teriyaki, sweet chilli and barbecue flavours.

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Ghee

Ghee is another ingredient on the rise. It is made by slowly melting butter, allowing the water to evaporate and milk solids to separate.

While it has a higher concentration of certain vitamins than butter, such as Vitamin A, Greenfield says this is only because it is more concentrated, holding slightly more calories and saturated fat.

"There is no strong evidence to conclude that ghee is superior to any other dietary fat, therefore it should only be consumed in small amounts and as part of an overall healthy diet," she says.

Ghee is a form of highly clarified butter.
Ghee is a form of highly clarified butter. Photo: iStock

Instead, she recommends incorporating fats such as extra virgin olive oil rather than ghee for anyone following a keto diet or looking to increase their fat intake.

Monkfruit sweetener

Finding sweet treats on the keto diet can be difficult, as they are obviously a major source of carbs.

This is where monkfruit comes in.

Monkfruit sweetener obtains its flavour from glycosides, so is therefore free of kilojoules.

"I would recommend it as a safe, calorie-free and natural alternative to caloric sweeteners for people trying to minimise their total energy or sugar intake," Greenfield says.

"It contains zero calories, meaning that it also has no carbohydrates and can be considered keto friendly."

Monkfruit is a more natural sugar alternative than synthetic sweeteners, making it a great option to include in a Keto diet.

Flaxseed meal

Flaxseed meal, made from ground whole flaxseeds, is high in essential fatty acids, fibre and dietary lignans (antioxidants that protect cells from environmental damage and disease). It's also low in carbohydrates, making it relatively friendly for low-carb diets. 

Greenfield says its nutritional profile makes flaxseed meal a good addition to a keto diet.

"It is a relatively low-risk ingredient so there is no harm in adding it to your diet to bump up your essential fatty acids, fibre and lignan intake, which have all been shown to be good for heart health and inflammation," Greenfield says.

Nutritional yeast

Perhaps the strangest ingredient on this list, nutritional yeast is the deactivated form of a specific strain of yeast, with a salty and slightly cheesy taste. It's often sold in flake, granule and powder form.

It's used as a substitute for salt and pepper, and is often added to dishes as a vegan cheese alternative. 

Nutritional yeast is high in protein, has all nine essential amino acids  and contains magnesium, copper, manganese and fibre.

Greenfield says it can be included as a part of a keto diet to add flavour, or replace seasoning or cheese. 

Keep it balanced

Despite the growing list of keto-friendly ingredients, Greenfield cautions against any diet that omits or restricts key food groups.

While the keto diet may offer some short-term benefits for certain medical conditions such as epilepsy, she says it is still a restrictive way to eat and difficult to maintain long-term.

"The keto diet, unfortunately, cuts out important food groups, making it very difficult to meet our daily fibre and nutrient requirements," she says. 

"In order to stay within the allowed 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day, many nutrient-rich, carbohydrate-containing foods are avoided such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, legumes, fruit and starchy vegetables."

Greenfield adds that this makes it near impossible to meet dietary fibre requirements without supplementation, can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, and may also be related to an increased risk of bowel cancer in the long term.

"The lack of high-fibre foods can also result in an insufficient intake of prebiotic fibres, which are important to feed the good bacteria in the gut, leading to issues such as dysbiosis, an overgrowth of bad bacteria or inflammation," she says.